Linda Pollock: Lifelong Volunteer Wins Governor General’s Medal

By Theresa Wallace

This is the first in an occasional series spotlighting the many volunteer heroes of Old Ottawa East.

Congratulations to Linda Pollock, recent winner of the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, which recognizes the commitment of volunteers across Canada.

When the long-time OOE resident retired 15 years ago, she took the project management skills she’d developed within the federal government and ramped up her volunteering, particularly with Centretown United Church on Bank Street, just north of the Queensway.

Linda Pollock beside a planter at Centretown United Church where she initiated an urban produce garden to help feed clients at Centre 507. Photo by Theresa Wallace.

Linda Pollock beside a planter at Centretown United Church where she initiated an urban produce garden to help feed clients at Centre 507. Photo by Theresa Wallace.

For many years Pollock was on the board of Centre 507, which operates out of this church. Offering free lunches six days a week and access to a supportive community, Centre 507 provides a safe haven and a steppingstone for those experiencing financial, social and health challenges.

In 2014, the board was discussing how they could afford to serve more nutritious lunches. This discussion coincided with the need to remove dead ash trees from four large planters on church property. With start-up funding from Just Food, a local non-profit, Pollock and other volunteers dug out the planters, repaired them, put in new soil, and planted vegetables. There are now 11 planters producing fresh veggies for Centre lunches.

Studio 507 was started in 2011 because a Centre 507 staff person noticed that participants sometimes showed up with canvasses or small sculptures they had created and wanted to sell. Pollock applied for funding from the United Church of Canada. Then she found experienced artist mentors and other volunteers willing to work at the church every second Wednesday in a drop-in studio for artists who couldn’t afford studio space and supplies. In 2016, the group Bad Bad Not Good, nominated for a Polaris Music Prize that year, did a benefit concert for the art program. “Almost 700 people attended, and we’re still living off the proceeds,” says Pollock.

Each fall, studio artists’ work is showcased in conjunction with an event in the church. The first year, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent gave a talk. For the past couple of years, Tone Cluster Choir has performed, followed by a reception and an art exhibit and sale.

Pollock insists she’s one tiny cog in a volunteer machine of many individuals and businesses. However, previous Sovereign’s Medal winner Betty Gross, who helped found Centre 507 decades ago and who nominated Pollock for the award, says what sets her apart is that she always clearly sees the path ahead: she knows exactly what’s needed and how to achieve it. “Linda has a vision, and yet she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty shovelling soil or doing whatever physical work is required.”

Richard LeBlanc, executive director of Centre 507, says Pollock is one of the most accepting, non-judgemental people he’s met. “And at her core,” he says, “is a dedication to giving back to the community.”

Do you know an Old Ottawa East volunteer whose work should be highlighted in the Mainstreeter? We’d love to hear from your at editor@mainstreeter.ca WARNING: We might also try to recruit you to write the article–no previous writing experience required!.

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